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Golden Memories

February 25, 2016


Fuzzy Recollections of the Very First Addy Awards

By Kate Sonnick

Let’s see…Stiller & Meara. A florist with a wolf’s head. And a room full of what appeared to be every semi-conscious body from the Rochester ad scene. At least that is my fuzzy recollection of the scene at the first RAF Addy Awards, back in 1991.

At the time, I was a fledgling copywriter at an agency called Winterkorn Lillis. Bill Lillis was an old-school Mad-Men adman. As in, his secretary sat at a desk outside his mahogany-walled office to announce visitors and bring him his drycleaning. As in, he wore a suit and tie to the office every day. As in, he decreed that every woman in the agency wear skirts or dresses; never pants. Out of defiance, ignorance or creative license, I am pretty sure I wore gauchos on my first day at the agency.

The first-ever RAF Addy Awards show was held at the Rochester Riverside Convention Center. The theme was The Call of the Wild, which explains the wolf head, but little else. I remember walking into the grand lobby of the convention center and seeing hundreds of tiny votive candles placed on the floor, lighting the way to the main staircase. I remember being impressed. And careful not to set myself on fire.

Inside the ballroom was a huge bar area where all of the work was exhibited. I was thrilled when I spotted a project I had worked on. It was a collateral package for Corning glass pipettes. Martino Flynn’s Tim Downs was my creative director at the time and we had worked together on that piece. It wasn’t until that night that I learned glass pipettes could actually make my heart soar.

Just past the exhibition, the room was filled with dozens of round tables. The crowd finally took their seats and the guy with the wolf head suddenly appeared at the front of the room. He ran across the stage and howled a couple of times. Somebody said the wolfman was actually Chuck Arena, the guy who owns Arena’s flower shop. Why he was there and what he was doing remains a mystery to this day.

Then, Jerry Stiller and Anne Meara came out. They were a husband-and-wife comedy act popular in the ‘60s and ‘70s. This was before Jerry Stiller was a hit as George Costanza’s father on Seinfeld. I guess the Rochester Addys was the best gig they could get. It was a tough room. Then, as now, Rochester advertising types take no prisoners, not even a couple of Brooklyn comedians.

Top honors that first year went to Rumrill-Hoyt, for a DuPont Agricultural ad campaign. I still remember the headline: Sam and Holly have never seen mustards. I had no idea if that was a good thing or a bad thing. It didn’t matter what I thought. For the judges, not seeing mustards was good enough for a Best of Show.

The emcees of the show that night were members of the local media. An anchorman and woman, long forgotten to me now. What I do remember is our collateral package for Corning won a Gold Addy, my very first. Tim went up to collect the award as I sat at the table, a giant smile beaming across my face.

I’m not sure what it is about awards that quickens the pulse of us creative types. Maybe they appease our inner child. The one that drew the picture or wrote the story that Mom tacked up on the fridge. Maybe somehow they make up for all of the holiday RFPs and sleepless nights and tension headaches. Maybe it is proof that this shit really matters. At least to us. And our Moms.

Years later, I won my own Best of Show along with my creative team at Buck & Pulleyn. It was one of the happiest moments of my life. I brought the shiny trophy home and placed it on the floor in my living room. My terrier Mac sauntered over to take a sniff. Then, he lifted his leg and marked his territory with dead aim, a quick spritz. Golden, of course.